Environment

Melting Glaciers Will Reveal Cold-War-Era Nuclear Waste

Melting glaciers have revealed a number of surprises over the past few years, from Viking artifacts in Norway to World War I burials in the Italian Alps. And one day, if global warming continues its current course, Greenland’s retreating ice sheet could expose a more troubling relic of the past: a Cold War military base and whatever biological, chemical and radioactive waste is left inside, scientists say.

NASA’s Earth Observatory posted maps today (Jan. 31) that show the changes expected to take place near the site of Camp Century, a once-secret U.S. military base built in 1959 primarily to test the possibility of launching nuclear missiles from the Arctic to the Soviet Union.

The site was abandoned in 1967 and is now buried about 100 feet (30 meters) beneath a crust of snow and ice. But the maps, analyzed as part of a study published in August 2016 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, show that because of ice loss, Camp Century could become an environmental hazard by the end of this century.

These maps show the surface mass balance of ice, or the net change between the accumulation and ablation of ice and snow on a glacier’s surface. Ablation happens when ice thins due to evaporation, melting and wind. The dark red indicates areas where the ice surface is likely to drop by 10 feet (3 meters) or more per year.

Greenland camp century ice balance

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